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Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy Independence...?

It was a busy Sunday morning at Pricesmart.  We'd parked closer to the highway than to the entrance and made the walk through the car park to use the ATM and size up what was definitely going to be a massive long-weekend-pre-Independence-two-days-before-school-opens crowd.

We got to the door and I went through my wallet looking for the membership card before my girlfriend beat me to it and flashed hers.  I'd already made up my mind though that we were probably not going to be doing any shopping today having noted that the lines at the register were into the aisles and peoples' carts looked like they'd shopped for the month.

While my lady moved toward the ATM, I stood to size up a Bravia 46-inch flat screen but only wistfully, and pulled myself a little closer to the shelves having been struck pretty hard by the front of a cart.  Getting hit again by the side of the same cart pulled me out of my reverie.  There was nothing for me to mind really though.  Clearly, I was in the way and someone was having some trouble pushing their cart.  On a day like this in a place as busy, I don't even bother to wait to hear the "sorry" anymore.  As a matter of fact, I was setting to extend my own apologies for being an obstruction.

"Are you a supervisor?!  I want to see a supervisor," a middle-aged woman with glasses blustered, continuing to shove the cart roughly.  Her child, a girl of maybe five or six was sitting in the cart, looking a little bit bewildered.
[In my head] Pretty little thing... Father must be Chinese or some extraction... 
"Are you a supervisor?!" she asked loudly again, pushing up her glasses roughly.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her fussing her handbag onto her shoulder and pushing back her brown shoulder length hair.
Talking to me...?  Oh!  Ok... The fella there in the waistcoat...
She asked more roughly again whether he was a supervisor, and he began to blubber something while pointing the clearly flummoxed woman to what I can only guess was someone more senior on the floor.

"I want keep my cart here.  I don't want to lose my cart," she said as she extricated the little one, and gave the cart one more rough shove to the side.

Full blown maccociousness on my part took over.  The Pricesmart staff continued to mutter some, apparently not sure how to deal with this very animated lady, his own seeming pleasant conversation with another young man standing next to him cut short.

"Where is the supervisor?!  A man outside prevented me from parking!  Prevented me from parking!  And then," she turns, glares at me, "let a negro man park in front of me!"  The greater emphasis is not mine.  She then looked back to the beleaguered staffer.
*Chuckle* But she ent know people does stand up in and hold spots for people when the car park busy... Wait nuh!  What she just watch me in mih eye and say?!  Is me she dey wid?!
I was well outside by the time the bile really started to rise though.  She had blustered off dragging her child behind her and with the Pricesmart staffer in tow to make loud somewhere else, and I in the mean time went ahead to take my turn at the machine.

My girlfriend had missed the entire display, and I started recounting what had happened as I was pushing my wallet back into my pocket.  By the time I'd gotten to the "negro" bit, we were back in the car and on our way out.  Hot in my mind were the following questions:
  1. What the France did race have to do with the situation?  Would it have been any different had someone of a "different kind" taken the park that she wanted?
  2. How far was she going to carry her ignorance?  Was she going to repeat what she said so emphatically, possibly emboldened by my own inability to respond?
  3. How many people were going to be silently agreeing with her as she ranted on Pricesmart's floor?
  4. How many people would she have incited to responding to her with equal and greater crudeness?
  5. What in heaven's name was she teaching her little child?
One would hope that this woman would have quickly realised what she said, felt some remorse and would have refrained from repeating it.  One would also hope that if that weren't the case then she was just a vocal minority and a patent embarrassment to everyone around.  On the drive, my girlfriend put forward that the woman was definitely just one person, and that there would be so many more in the country who were not that obtuse.  But the fact that the woman felt comfortable enough to behave thus and that brazenly is not a good sign, that she feels brave enough to say such things loudly without fear of reproach and rebuke.

Forty-seven years on and this shameful, stinking attitude still exists in a society that we have marketed as cosmopolitan and callaloo and beautiful... Forty-seven years after the same race-based nonsense is reputed to have threatened to divide the country, splitting it into two physical territories... Almost thirty years after the same mode of thinking called for a rehash of that separatist cry... Even more recently, we have people shouting loudly "Race!" instead of "Blasted criminal!" and "Incompetent!" and "Yuh wrong and have no foot to stand on!"
Perhaps I did miss my own opportunity to put her in her place, to explain to her that her utterance was more than just contemptible and bordered on obscene.  But why should I have to, in this day and age, upbraid a woman who looked to be a reasonably intelligent and otherwise respectable member of the country's upper middle class?  Certainly that kind of correction isn't necessary today in an enlightened populace where education and opportunity are at least in theory available to all...  One would hope, yes?

A local journalist sadly wrote the following in 2002 though:
I don't think anyone could truthfully describe Trinidad as a successful society. The gung-ho patriots always point to our harmonious race relations as a lesson we have to offer the world. But that success is relative only to worst-case scenarios of official racism (like the Indesh state once recommended by our more bigoted Indo-Trinidadians) or racial killings.
To besides, I'm not sure if we can take any real credit for having avoided these extremes. That would imply a moral and ethical sensibility which Trinidadians do not display in any other facet of national life. Rather, I think it is our small geographical area and oil wealth which account for the relatively peaceful co-existence of the races on this island.
(The small land space ensures that the two racial groups have been unable to retreat into hermetic enclaves where prejudices could harden, while the oil and gas dollars have prevented the economy from becoming so parlous that demagogues could appeal to racial violence as a method of solving social problems.)
But, given the natural resources of this country, and given the intellectual and creative abilities of a significant number of individuals born here, it is fair to say that our society is a definite failure. That is, it is a failure relative to the levels of prosperity and social stability which our wealth and native talent should have created.
Have we grown since those heady days of 1962?  Are we really and truly independent, or does that woman's brand of disappointing narrowness show that we are still not ready for self-determination?

Happy 47th, Trinidad and Tobago.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How ATM card skimming and PIN capturing scams work

The following is a presentation prepared by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia on types of bank card fraud perpetrated at the ATM. It includes some good information on what kinds of things to look for as well as how to protect yourself. Even though to date we've seen some less sophisticated methods used in Trinidad and Tobago like the Lebanese Loop, that doesn't mean that some of these can't find themselves in use by determined fraudsters.

The slideshow advises that you contact your bank if you discover any of the skimming devices attached to their machines. Just about all of the major financial institutions in Trinidad and Tobago now offer ATM services, either at their own machines or via sharing arrangements, e.g. LINX and LinCU. For ease of reference, contact information for the country's major institutions has been culled from their websites:
RBTT BankTel: 625-RBTT (7288)
Fax: 625-3764
Online Inquiry Form: [Link]
Other Contact Information: [Link]
Republic BankTelephone: 625-3617 ext. 3071, 3072
Fax: 625-3617 ext. 3070
E-mail: customercare@republictt.com
First CitizensTel: 62-FIRST (623-4778)
Online Feedback Form: [Link]
ScotiabankCredit Card and Contact Centre
Serving you from Monday to Friday, from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm.
Corporate Area: (868) 627-2684
Toll free from the UK: (905) 587-2010
Visa International Service Centre: (800) 847-2911
Collect from anywhere in the World: (410) 581-9994
Other Contact Information: [Link]
Eastern Credit UnionCall Centre: 800-CALL(4328) or 800-LOAN(5626)
Email: ecu@easterncutt.com
Other Contact Information: [Link]
Unit Trust CorporationTel: 625-UNIT (8648)
Other Contact Information: [Link]
Intercommercial BankTBA

Monday, August 24, 2009

Raffique Shah: Executive President, yes...elected by the people

Raffique Shah in the Sunday Express of August 23rd on the notion of Executive Presidency... As always, an interesting read and view:
LISTENING to well-informed people, some of them respected intellectuals, argue against a system of government that allows for an executive president, intrigues me. They invariably pursue their arguments using fancy-words-work, but essentially they are little different to the barely-informed masses, who, on the eve of Trinidad and Tobago adopting a republican constitution in 1976, cried "bloody murder" over that minor change in our system of governance.

The ordinary man could have been excused then for thinking that a republican state allowed for whoever wielded power to summarily line up dissidents against a wall and have them shot.

They will have noted what transpired under military caudillo dictatorships, mainly in neighbouring Latin America, that disguised themselves as republican governments. They thought, egged on by irresponsible political leadership, that "sweet TnT" would be stripped of the rule of law, and that the Prime Minister would morph into a "prime monster" with the enactment of a republican form of government.

No such thing happened. In fact, after the new Constitution came into effect, and in the ensuing years it has remained in effect, nothing has changed. Which is where the real problem lies. If tomorrow the Patrick Manning Government were to use its majority in Parliament, and with a little help from dissidents in the opposition and independent senators, proclaim a new constitution that allows for an executive president, I guarantee you nothing will change. As CLR James once said of a particular trade unionist, "He is not reactionary, he is not revolutionary he is just stationary!"

What would be the major differences between the executive presidency system as advocated by the Manning "working paper", and what obtains under the existing system? First, President Max Richards will seal his place in history as the last ceremonial president. Good riddance, I say.

And here I'm not casting aspersions at President Max, but pointing out the uselessness of the office. What has any president of the country done, since Ellis Clarke's assumption of that role in 1976 that can be considered worthy of a palatial residence, a full staff, and these at great cost to taxpayers? Nothing!

So why should we be made to bear the costs of maintaining two-man-rats when we could easily settle for one? I mean, it's not even a case buy-one-get-one-free! For all intents, if not purposes, the Prime Minister is the supreme leader. And I'm not referring only to Mr Manning, whose supremacy in Cabinet is not even a case of first among equals, but first among lasts.

Look at Basdeo Panday's conduct in opposition. Not a damn dog dares to bark in his party. If he or she does, she is pilloried, drawn-and-quartered, and ultimately consigned to a cemetery that exists in Panday's warped mind. The same holds true for most political parties we have known: you should read Patrick French's The World Is What It Is, the authorised biography of the ever-cynical Vidia Naipaul.

So what difference would it make if we move from an all-powerful prime minister to a similarly empowered president? It will make absolutely no difference-unless the person who holds the office is benevolent, is prepared to govern by consensus, not by imposing his will on his party or on the population. That is all, nothing more, nothing less. Well, we save expenditure on a toothless president.

Why, therefore, are people all wired-up over this change that seems inevitable?

What we can argue over is how the president is elected to office. Or how his supreme powers should be constrained by the legislative arm of government. I am all for a president directly elected by the people. Mr Manning is against that. He argues that the result could be a president without a majority in Parliament. He says that is a recipe for confusion, since our politicians are not mature enough to put country before self or partisan interests.

So what else is new? Isn't that the way it is now, and has been for as long as we have had adult franchise? True, Dr Williams, in his day, was able to conscript support from opposition members-the name Bhadase Maharaj comes to mind, as does Panday when, in 1978, Williams sought support for the un-implementable "Crossing the Floor" Bill. But those were conspiratorial alliances, not measures of maturity.

Any politician who does not want to put his future in the hands of his people should get the hell out of politics! Why say, "Let the people decide," and then run scared of the masses? Such attitude goes against the grain of democracy, a system all our politicians proclaim as their creed, even if the fail to practice it in their parties, in their Cabinets. In any event, it is difficult to see a president being elected by a decent majority, while, based on the same elections, he fails to secure a majority in the House of Representatives.

So bring on an executive president. Let's rid ourselves of the post-colonial shackles of an impotent president-and save the office holder from further humiliation. But let us avoid exchange, merely substituting Prime Minister for President. Change must mean something different, something better.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gully Lovely: Spoken Work Poetry Extravaganza - Aug 22 & 23

"GULLY LOVELY", the spoken word poetry extravaganza coming to the Cipriani Labor College’s CLR James Auditorium is a fantastic exploration of personal history, cricket, New York, Trinidad and Puerto Rico coming from the minds of two of the most exciting voices in the United States performance scene.

Trinidad & Tobago's own Roger Bonair-Agard, author of Tarnish and Masquerade (Cypher Books, 2006), GULLY (Cypher Books, 2009) and the critically acclaimed one-man show MASQUERADE: Calypso and Home, which played in the Little Carib Theatre in 2006, and Def Poetry alumnus is joined by Willie Perdomo, a Harlem native of Puerto Rican descent and author of Where a Nickel Costs a Dime (Norton, 1999) and Smoking Lovely (Rattapallax Press, 2003).

The poems of Bonair-Agard and Perdomoconcern themselves with blackness, post-colonial struggle, sport, love and the negotiation of their own manhoods. It is a powerful, engaging, funny and joyous celebration of what it is to be men of color in a completely new and often unforgiving world. It is not to be missed.

The show will also feature rising and phenomenal local poet Muhammad Muwakil, with guest appearances by jazz band Élan Parlé and rapso group 3Canal.

Two performances are carded for Saturday 22nd August starting at 7:00pm and Sunday 23rd August starting at 6:00pm

Tickets cost $150.00, and are available at the Box Office of the Cipriani Labour College Auditorium and the Queen's Royal College office, or call Larry at 486-0591.

ROGER BONAIR-AGARD is a native of Trinidad and Tobago, Queen's Royal College Old Boy, Hunter College alumnus and a Cave Canem fellow. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Tarnish and Masquerade (Cypher Books 2006) and GULLY (Cypher Books 2009). He is co-author of a third collection, Burning Down the House (Soft Skull Press 2000).

A two-time National Poetry Slam Champion, Roger is also co-founder and Artistic Director of the LouderARTS Project. He is poet-in-residence with VisionIntoArt, an inter-disciplinary performance ensemble, for whom his work is regularly commissioned. He is also writer and performer of the critically acclaimed one-man show MASQUERADE: calypso and home, produced by Terranova Collective.

Roger's work is widely anthologized and he has performed in festivals and Universities throughout the world, including the Geraldine R Dodge Poetry Festival (New Jersey), Bumbershoot Music Festival (Seattle, WA), Calabash Literary Festival (Jamaica, W.I.), Urban Voices Festival (South Africa), University of the West Indies (Trinidad and Tobago), Cape Town University (South Africa), University of Alaska (Anchorage, AK), Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH), Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL) to name a few; and festivals in Germany and Switzerland as well. He has taught with the teen poetry organization Urban Word NYC since 1999. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

SOURCE: Borders Media

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